Verizon lifts data speed caps for first responders

Verizon lifts data speed caps for first responders

Firefighters conduct a controlled burn to defend houses against flames from the Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex Fire, as it continues to spreads towards the town of Upper Lake, California, on August 1, 2018. Ironically, it's Verizon's policy to remove throttling restrictions when asked by fire departments in emergency situations at no additional cost.

Some say the issue highlights concerns of net-neutrality supporters, that allowing companies to manipulate their networks can have adverse, unexpected consequences.

"There is an understanding in the agreements between service providers (including Verizon) and the State of Montana that public safety and emergency communications should not be subject to throttling", communications director Amber Conger said in a statement.

Friday morning, Verizon's Senior Vice President of Public Sector Mike Maiorana released a statement that the company "didn't live up to our own promise of service and performance excellence when our process failed some first responders on the line".

His declaration is an addendum to a legal challenge against the FCC filed by almost two dozen state attorneys general and a slew of government agencies looking to overturn the repeal of net neutrality rules that went into effect in June. The company also admitted that the plan the fire department had purchased wasn't unlimited, and would begin throttling speeds upon using a certain quantity of data, but it had miscommunicated the terms of the plan.

In that addendum, the Santa Clara County fire department claims that Verizon's speed caps affected an emergency vehicle that it used as a command and control point to help organize resources and people from across the entire state, and even the country, to help battle this wildfire.

In that statement, Verizon said it would be introducing a "new plan" with truly unlimited data and "priority access" for first responders nationwide. The firefighters are now trying to control and put out the Mendocino Complex Fire, which has become the largest wildfire in the state's history.

Verizon denies the slowdown was related to the lawsuit or the FCC's repeal of net neutrality rules, which required equal data access to all customers.

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The executives spoke shortly after hearing from Santa Clara County Fire Chief Tony Bowden who said that his agency had experienced similar throttling in December 2017.

He says he saw the writing on the wall on this issue previous year, and six months ago, filed suit against the Federal Communications Commission over cell companies common practice of throttling, or "speed capping", data.

A similar exchange occurred between the two parties on July 5th and 6th, upon which the fire department finally conceded, and was forced to upgrade to the $99.99 plan for the first 20GB of data - over twice the amount they were paying till now - and $8 per GB after that cap was reached.

"It's important for communications providers and public safety agencies to work together closely to ensure that agencies have communications services that meet their needs, especially in emergency situations".

Verizon spokeswoman Heidi Flato said the company made a mistake and "will fix any issues going forward".

So, rather than wait for Verizon to get its act together, he said, they came up with an alternative.

"The Internet has become an essential tool in providing fire and emergency response, particularly for events like large fires which require the rapid deployment and organization of thousands of personnel and hundreds of fuel engines, aircraft, and buIldozers", Bowden wrote.

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